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IN THIS ISSUE’S COVER STORY best-selling sci-fi author David Brin discusses the distinction between good and bad climate skepticism. Also, now that studies have shown that cell phones do not cause cancer, physicist Bernard Leikind explains exactly why they cannot. He compares the energy it takes to cause a biochemical change in a cell with the significantly weaker energy put out by cell phones.

Plus, in this issue, you’ll find: James Randi on Dowsing Rod Bomb Detectors • Daniel Loxton’s Top 10 Busted Myths in Junior Skeptic • Sex & Astrology • The $1 Million Dollar Challenge • What is Truth? Why We Disagree • The Nonreligious: The Stigma of Being an Atheist • The Growth of Religious Indifference • Health Hype: Are We Really Living Longer? • Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer? • SkepDoc on: Do Environmental Chemicals Destroy Male Fertility? • Boosting Your Immune System • Teaching Strategies: Magic in the Classroom • The Grinnell Experiment, and more…

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In this week’s eSkeptic, Harriet Hall, M.D. (aka the SkepDoc) reviews The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists by Sean Connelly.

Dr Harriet Hall, MD is a retired family physician and Air Force Colonel living in Puyallup, Washington. She writes about alternative medicine, pseudoscience, quackery, and critical thinking. She is a contributing editor to both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, an advisor to the Quackwatch website, and an editor of ScienceBasedMedicine.org, where she writes an article every Tuesday. She recently published Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon. Her website is www.skepdoc.info.


Science in the Spirit of Mythbusters

by Harriet Hall, M.D., the Skepdoc

We skeptics spend a lot of time critiquing non-science and too little time promoting science itself. Science is awe-inspiring and fun, and any effort to communicate that to our children is worthwhile. A new book by Sean Connolly, The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists, serves that goal well.

Connolly makes science sound like a great adventure: he explains how “mad” scientists have carried out potentially catastrophic experiments like jumping out of a balloon with only a few yards of silk to slow down the fall. Brave scientific pioneers stuck their necks out to make breakthrough discoveries that have vastly improved our lives and our understanding of how the world works.

He describes 34 of the greatest scientific breakthroughs, from stone age tools through Galileo, Newton, Jenner, Darwin, and Curie to the Large Hadron Collider. He tells their stories in an accessible, entertaining style, and he explains the scientific principles in simple terms illustrated by compelling examples. The book is intended for children ages 9 and up, but even adult scientists might enjoy reading it and might even learn a thing or two.

The best part is the experiments: 50 of them that kids can do at home to illustrate those principles. He makes them more exciting by rating them from one to four on a Catastrophic Meter Chart, with one representing “no risk of catastrophe” and four representing “high risk: involves use of fire, lot liquids, or hazardous substances. Adult supervision required.” Some of them are delightfully messy, like creating avalanches with sugar and flour, spilling water, and counting how many popcorn kernels pop out of an open pan per unit of time to demonstrate what radioactive half-life means. You can extract DNA in a kitchen experiment. You can measure the speed of light by melting marshmallows in the microwave oven. You can create a fossil. You can send a toy soldier aloft in a hot air trash bag balloon. You can build a soda bottle rocket. You can shock your tongue with a battery you make yourself from a stack of nickels and pennies.

Young fans of the Mythbusters should particularly love this book. Doing their own experiments is a step up from watching them on TV, and it might even be the first step towards a career in science.


Mythbusting Madness from Shop Skeptic
DVD cover MythBusters Collection 1
(DVD $29.99)

If you love science and you’ve never run into Discovery Channel’s MythBusters you are in for a treat. Get 12 episodes from seasons two and three in one four-DVD boxed set. Bonus feature: “MythBusters Revealed” — a behind the scenes look that reveals all the gaffs, goofs and experiments gone awry that make up the filming of a typical MythBusters episode. Read more…

DVD cover MythBusters Collection 2
(DVD $29.99)

Another 12-episode, four-DVD boxed set of the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters featuring the stoic Jamie Hyneman and the puckishly enthusiastic Adam Savage using scientific knowledge and special effects construction skills to test the practical viability of urban myths and folklore. Read more…


Rave Reviews for Evolution

WE ARE PROUD TO SAY that the Junior Skeptic-based kids’ book Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be continues to garner rave reviews from science media and educators alike.

Science News magazine reports that this “in-depth guide to life’s history gives clear answers to kids’ questions about evolution,” while the Sacramento Book Review praises its “respectful tone indicative of an intent to enlighten rather than inflame.”

The National Center for Science Education offers a free PDF sample from Evolution, with Executive director Dr. Eugenie Scott’s endorsement: “I am just so delighted with this book! Loxton hits the key concepts perfectly, and without being stuffy about it.”

The National Science Teachers Association agrees, recommending Evolution as “an excellent resource for both students and teachers” which “complies with the ideas set forth about evolution by the National Science Education Standards and fills a gap in books about evolution for this age group.”

And, while Wired GeekDad crowns Evolution “the best overview of evolution for children of which I’m aware,” the greatest response comes from the Wired reviewer’s own child: “There’s no need to take my word for it: This review is a couple of weeks later than I’d hoped, because my 6-yr-old kept stealing it and carrying it around the house to study.”


NEW ON SKEPTICBLOG.ORG
Tony Blair’s Answer: The Force of Ideas Over the Force of Arms

At the Khosla Ventures summit at Cavello Point in Sausalito, California, Michael Shermer had the opportunity to ask Tony Blair how we can globally spread ideas such as liberal democracy, market capitalism, science, technology, and education without imposing them on other people.

READ the post

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When Ideas Have Sex

In the June issue of Scientific American, Dr. Michael Shermer explains how the free exchange between people of goods, services, and especially ideas increases prosperity and trust for everyone.

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FOLLOW MICHAEL SHERMER ON TWITTERFacebookTRUE/SLANT


OUR NEXT LECTURER: paleontologist John Long

Dr. John Long

Death, Sex & Evolution

Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 2 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech

IN THIS RIVETING STORY about his remarkable discoveries from the Gogo fossil site in the Kimberly district of Western Australia, the Australian paleontologist John Long, now Vice President of Research and Collections at the Natural History Museum of L.A. County, takes us beyond just reconstructing animal morphology and into the realm of restoring ancient behavior. Long drills down deep on how we know what we know about the past, what the boundaries of knowledge are with respect to studying fossils, and how exceptional fossils contribute to reshaping our perspectives on evolution.
READ more about this lecture…

8 Comments »

8 Comments

  1. Stu Selthun says:

    In what sense are the Mythbusters’ entertainments Science? Typically, (with some exceptions I’m sure) their “results” are not independently verified, their experiments are not repeatable because they don’t publish their methods or math, their hypotheses are often not stated or are ambiguous, and their goal is certainly not discovery or advancing knowledge, but rather entertainment while maximizing ad dollars. They are certainly extremely entertaining and fun to watch. Their practical engineering skills are marvelous to see in action. They are admirably skeptical about foolishness. It’s fun and educational when they relate their rumor research to history. But those things don’t add up to Science.

  2. madge says:

    Maybe it’s supposed to be lighthearted? Science doesn’t have to be incredibly boring!

  3. cabbo says:

    It’s aimed at a young audience, and gives some good examples of basic scientific rules. They aren’t tackling the curve, they’re just spreading the idea.

  4. Jon Kimball says:

    Too true, Stu. But they do promote a skeptical turn of mind perhaps much to the dismay of those old wives whose tales are debunked. Arguably, there is nothing more important to science than the refusal to accept the accepted; certainly that’s the driver behind many important breakthroughs.

  5. Tracy Ramsey says:

    The Mythbusters are science’s answer to marijuana, a gateway to the harder stuff to come. If it gets one kid excited about physics or chemistry, then “God” bless Jaime and Adam. Think about how many kids are into science today because of MacGyver, and just enjoy the darned show for what it is.

  6. Pixel says:

    They demonstrate critical thinking.

  7. Ray Rangel says:

    Myhbusters are what we can call “chuckle” testers. Sure, their methods aren’t the most scientific, but they take modern myths and apply a “chuckle” test to them. A minimun test of a myth’s veracity. That almost all don’t pass the test is a comment on human nature and the willingness of people to believe outlandish things.

  8. Larry Winkler says:

    “… there is nothing more important to science than the refusal to accept the accepted;”

    I couldn’t disagree more. Science is closing in on the truth about the world, gathering evidence that makes some material fact or theory or hypothesis or prediction more or less probable through controlled repeatable experiments and observations. It is confirmed in the ideal when this understanding allows one to use this knowledge to build a process or object that works or solves an existing problem because of this new found knowledge. That is, it eventually has some practical tangible value.

    That is, science is that study and habit of thought which allows one to really know something, as opposed to merely believing or having an opinion.

    And, it’s not a matter not accepting the accepted, but knowing when the accepted has been proved.

    Bertrand Russell once said: “A mind forever open is a mind forever empty.” Maintaining an empty mind is not the goal of scientists nor skeptics.

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